Liverpool’s captain and manager were asked by the Sky TV cameras for their views on the 1-1 draw with Chelsea that had just come to an end. Liverpool had been in front at half-time thanks to a Fernando Torres goal, his first competitive goal on his home debut, but by the end of it were demoralised thanks to a penalty award that had baffled just about everyone watching it. Manager Rafael Benitez was the angrier of the two, but both were wary of speaking in too much detail about a decision Rafa branded as “unbelievable”.
Captain Steven Gerrard was asked if he felt Liverpool had done enough to win it: “Yes I think so – I think a very, very unfair decision has got Chelsea a point today.” Mindful of the rules that protect inept referees from criticism Gerrard held back somewhat when asked again about the penalty: “To be honest I’ll get myself into trouble – I felt the referee didn’t play well today, there was a lot of pressure from the Chelsea players and eventually. When players make mistakes they have to say sorry, so we’ll see what he has to say.”
Despite the points that were taken away by a referee who also clearly booked a player (Essien) twice without sending him off, Gerrard said that there were good points from the match: “I think there’s a lot of positives to take from that performance, we showed we are capable of a challenge.”
And for the Torres goal, Gerrard said he wasn’t surprised and wants more: “Fernando Torres – typical really. If you give him the right service he’ll score goals, he’s all about running behind defenders, he’s got terrific pace. In pressure situations he can show he can finish – a bit more of that Fernando please!”
Gerrard was used in his favoured central midfield position today, and as ever the Sky reporter asked him whether he preferred it there: “It’s where I play. I’ve been coached since seven or eight years of age to play central midfield. I’ve talked to Rafa before about why I’ve not been playing there. I know where I’m best, I think a lot of other people know where I’m best and I think the manager’s starting to realise where I’m best.” It has to be pointed out that Gerrard said all this with a smile on his face, and was in no way having a go at his manager.
The other issue the media have tried to make an issue out of is whether Gerrard, who played today’s game with a fractured toe, should play in England’s meaningless friendly against Germany on Wednesday. It was suggested to the Reds captain that he’d looked pretty fit today. He said: “I looked fit enough out there because I’ve had a pain killing injection to play, but the story is I need to rest now to get this crack ready for the big qualifiers for England.” Clearly Gerrard was playing the diplomat, because there’s little doubt that Gerrard’s first concern is that he’ll be fit enough to play in Liverpool’s next league match – the England qualifiers following closely behind.
It seems the disbelieving England setup want him to have another x-ray tomorrow: “I’ll be assessed in the morning and a decision will be made in the morning. I’ve spoken to Steve McLaren – the boss – a couple of times and I’ll be speaking to him again in the morning I suppose. I think the sensible thing is to make sure I’m ready for the big games – with all due respect it’s a friendly on Wednesday. I’ll take that into consideration, but if this x-ray tomorrow shows the crack’s healed I’ll be playing for England – but I can’t see it because three days ago I’ve had an x-ray and I’ve broke my toe!”
Meanwhile Gerrard’s Liverpool boss was unusually angry. He’d just been shown the replays of the penalty and was outraged: “I think it was a mistake: it could be a red card because he was the last man. It’s unbelievable. How can you take this decision?”
He repeated: “It’s unbelievable. A team that’s working so hard. How can you change a game like this? It’s unbelievable. Unbelievable.”
So would he speak to the referee about it? “No. It’s clear; he can watch the video maybe and see why we are so disappointed.”
Rafa was finding it hard, but he did see the positives: “I think that we had some chances against a good team – Chelsea, are a very good team. We had some good chances, the game was under control but these kinds of decisions are something you cannot explain.” Rafa too was wary of daring to point out the obvious shortcomings of a referee clearly unable to handle the pressure of a big game: “Maybe he was under pressure all the time, but then anyway – I prefer not to say too much.” Again a hint, like from Gerrard, that Chelsea had spent the whole game on the referee’s back trying to influence his decisions.
As for goal, Rafa will obviously enjoy seeing it played back once he’s calmed down: “I think that Torres showed the qualities he has: pace and a great finish. I think it was really good and it’s a pity. It’s important for all the strikers to score, but especially Torres because people were talking. He scored his first goal in pre-season, and now another goal at home. It’s very positive for him.”
Rafa was told how Gerrard had spoken – with a smile – about how central midfield was his best position. Rafa almost smiled in reply: “He scored 23 goals as a winger – if he can score 24 from the centre midfield I will be happy!” Asked if Gerrard will be playing there from now on Rafa said: “Normally, yes.”
Overall Rafa was pleased with the progress being made, but was under no illusions about how much work lies ahead: “I think for us it is positive because we showed character, quality and had chances against a good team. It shows we are close but you saw one game, we need to keep this tempo for nine months.”